Best Practices
Distinct Id Limits

Hot Shard Limits

In order to maintain fast queries and catch implementation mistakes, we set a limit on the number of events sent to a particular identifier in a given time window. This threshold has been established for a project as:

  • 200K events per distinct_id per event date in the project's user analytics.
  • 1M events per group identifier per event date (still represented as distinct_id in the rest of this doc) in each of the project's analytic groups.

What is a hot shard?

Whenever a project goes above the threshold described above, it generates an imbalance when storing events across distinct_ids, where one distinct_id's events grows larger than the rest, impacting storage and query systems which in-turn results in high query latencies (slower reports) for the end user.

Since we distribute events across shards, this imbalance is called a hot shard.

Group analytics has a different storage sharding of events separate from the user analytics. A hot shard that appears in an analytic group may or may not not appear in user analytics.

What happens when we detect a hot shard?

Once a given entry crosses the threshold, all subsequent matching events (same distinct_id and calendar day) will have the following transformations applied to them:

  • event will be changed to $hotshard_events (display name is Hotshard Events). The original event name will be preserved under a property called mp_original_event_name (display name is Hotshard Original Event Name). Changing the name removes the bad events from being selected for analysis yet remain accessible for debugging.
  • distinct_id is changed to ""1. The original value will be preserved under a property called mp_original_distinct_id (display name is Hotshard Original Distinct ID). Removing the distinct_id allows Mixpanel backend to distribute these events evenly across shards ensuring that performance is not adversely affected while keeping the data accessible for debugging.

Original Event -

  "event": "Signed up",
  "properties": {
    "time": 1618716477000,
    "distinct_id": "",
    "$insert_id": "36a92782-cd7d-41a0-93af-8c23ec6c4191",

Updated Event -

  "event": "$hotshard_events",
  "properties": {
    "time": 1618716477000,
    "distinct_id": "",
    "mp_original_event_name": "Signed up",
    "mp_original_distinct_id": "",
    "$insert_id": "36a92782-cd7d-41a0-93af-8c23ec6c4191",

These events can be queried from the dashboard just like any other events. An email is sent to organisation owners and the specific project's owners to alert them of the hot shard. In addition, a monthly report (per project) is sent as well for hot shards that were detected and remediated in the past month.

Recovering from a hot shard

The process can be broken down into 3 main steps:

  • Reviewing the hot shard events in your project to identify which events and distinct_id values are involved
  • Change the implementation to avoid further instances of the hot shard
  • (Optionally) Fix historical data via exporting, transforming and re-importing the data

Reviewing hot shard data in your project

A great starting point for the analysis would be to create a copy of this board (opens in a new tab) from our demo project into the affected project. As you open the board linked above, you will see instructions to click on "Use this board" to transfer it over to your project and to edit the default date range.

Screenshot use this board

The board eases the process of identifying the data marked as coming from a hot shard. Essentially, it helps you create reports to break down that data by the main distinct_id values affected as well as the event names. For example, you can see reports pointing to the main distinct_id values (by volume) generating the hot shard.

Sample hot shard report

Changing your implementation

Once you have identified the cluster of distinct_id values related to the issue, it would be time to review your implementation and inspect the reason why a set of these IDs are getting a higher than usual number of events. In general terms, you will often find these main scenarios:

Events that are non-attributable to users but marked with a specific ID

In some instances, your project will have events that should not be attributed to a specific user or group, like some automated tests being tracked, or perhaps ad-spend data you're importing; it may be that when implementing, a specific ID was abritrarily chosen for those events, say the string "0", "spend_data" or perhaps even the name of the pod/server the data is coming from. This can lead to hundreds of thousands of events with the same ID causing this issue.

If your use case is similar to this, and the event should not be attributed to specific users or groups, you can change your implementation to send those events with an empty string value "". Upon ingestion, Mixpanel will randomly store these events in different shards so you will not incur a performance hit if this is your intended use case.

ID management issue

Throughout the user journey, a given user might trigger events under multiple distinct_id values; the most frequent use case being a user initially being anonymous and then authenticating. When a user authenticates, generally, we advice changing the ID of the user to the authenticated one and for projects with ID merge enabled, and this is done through the identify function. Ideally this function should receive the user's authenticated ID to link it to the anonymous activity, but sometimes there can be implementation issues; as an example, the implementation may provide a static string for all users instead of the new user ID, like this:

function authenticate_user(user_id){

Although the code above looks almost like it should work, it could be easy to miss a static string is being passed to the function instead of the dynamic value for each user. This would mean that after this function runs, all users would actually send events with the same id value: user_id.

You will want to fix the implementation to identify users correctly and avoid new users being impacted. You can find more information on identifying users in this doc.

In case you've identified the problematic set of ID values, but you have not been able to identify the root cause in the implementation. Reach out to our support team (opens in a new tab) and provide the details you've uncovered so far; providing your copy of the board and any details on the investigation in your code will be of great assistance helping you identify the issue.

Fix historical data

Before re-importing, verify newly imported events will no longer create hot shards and the original issue has been solved.

Once the implementation has been changed, you can still have a situation in which some of your metrics might be temporarily down since they were tracked with a different event name ($hotshard_events instead of the original name) and without a distinct_id (which can make unique counts go down, although this is usually less of an impact).

The great news is that since the events are still in your project, you can export them, transform them and re-import them.

Below you will find an example script leveraging our python module (opens in a new tab) to export the $hotshard_events by day to a folder, transform them (in this case replace the event name with the original name the events had) and re-import them. This script is meant as a template for you to review and adjust. You will want to pay special attention to the transform_event function in which you can remap properties as needed for the final event to be imported. You can find the configuration options towards the start of the script within the SETTINGS variable.

import glob
import gzip
import json
from mixpanel_utils import MixpanelUtils
    "EU": False, # set to TRUE if your project is in the EU
    "EXPORT_FOLDER": "exported_files", # make sure to create the folder if it does not exist
    "FROM": "2023-09-01",
    "TO": "2023-09-15",
mputils = MixpanelUtils(SETTINGS["SA_PASSWORD"],token=SETTINGS["TOKEN"],service_account_username=SETTINGS["SA_USERNAME"], eu=SETTINGS["EU"], project_id=SETTINGS["PROJECT_ID"])
def flush_events(events):
    global mputils
    if(len(events) == 0):
        return False
    return True
def transform_event(event):
        data = json.loads(event)
        data["event"] = data["properties"]["mp_original_event_name"]
        del data["properties"]["mp_original_event_name"]
        del data["properties"]["mp_original_distinct_id"]
        # example if you wanted to remap the value from $user_id to distinct_id
        # if("$user_id" in data["properties"]):
        #     data["properties"]["distinct_id"] = data["properties"]["$user_id"]
        return data
        return False
#export hotshard events
    "from_date": SETTINGS["FROM"],
    "to_date": SETTINGS["TO"],
    "event": '["$hotshard_events"]'
}, add_gzip_header=True, request_per_day=True, raw_stream=True)
exported_files = glob.glob(f'{SETTINGS["EXPORT_FOLDER"]}/*.json.gz')
for file_name in exported_files:
    events = []
    event_queue_max = 50_000 # arbitrary max length before sending in batches
    with,'rt') as file:
        for line in file:
            event = transform_event(line)
            if(event == False):
            if(len(events) >= event_queue_max):
                events = []
        #flush remaining events
        if(len(events) > 0):
            events = []

Hot Shard FAQ

How does hot shard detection work?

The detection step runs in the ingestion pipeline. A counter of events is maintained for each distinct_id and event_date combination. The counter is best-effort as a result of the underlying systems used to maintain such a large keyspace.

Once a pre-defined threshold is crossed, the distinct_id is marked as contributing to a hot shard and all subsequent events for this distinct_id and event_date are updated to even the load across shards. Historical events prior to the hotshard detection for the same distinct_id are not updated.

I received an email about a hot shard but I don't see users with more than 200K events, why?

Since the detection is done at ingestion, duplicates (potentially as a result of client-side tracking retries) are also counted as part of the hotshard threshold (roughly > 200K event volume). This means you might see <200K events in Mixpanel reports as being remediated for certain distinct_id which were only deduplicated post-ingesting these events.


  1. Due to a side-effect on how events are serialized, some remediated entries were initially saved with a numeric distinct_id (instead of ""). This value can safely be ignored.

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